Child Custody Evaluations


What Is a Child Custody Evaluation?

A child custody evaluation is a report written by a neutral professional about you and your children. The report summarizes each parent's ideas about what would be best for the children and looks at information from teachers, doctors and other people who have had contact with your children. A recommendation is made in the report as to what custody and visitation plan would be best for your children. This report is given to the judicial officer and the attorneys for each parent.

The goal of a child custody evaluation is to provide the Court and the attorneys with objective, psycho-social information and recommendations about a family in order to assist the Court in issuing orders in highly contested custody disputes. In formulating a recommendation, the evaluator analyzes the family dynamics as they affect the children, and searches for a solution that serves the best interests of the children.

The information contained in an evaluation may be used by the Court in issuing custody orders or by the parties in reaching an agreement. Since the evaluation is written by someone who is neutral and is knowledgeable about how divorce affects children, a custody evaluation a very important alternative dispute resolution tool.

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When Might You Need a Child Custody Evaluation?

If a custody issue is not settled in mediation and the parents have serious concerns about each other's ability to parent the children involved, a child custody evaluation may be useful. In particular, an evaluation may be important in cases where any of the following issues are present:
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Is There a Cost?

Unless the Court orders the cost of the evaluation waived or deferred, a deposit (of approximately $1000) is required before the evaluation commences. The actual total cost of the evaluation is computed based on an hourly charge for services and is detailed in the bill which is sent when the evaluation is completed The report is not released to the attorneys or the Court until the bill is paid in full, unless the Court orders otherwise.
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How Long Does It Take?

A return Court date of three months in the future should be set to receive the completed evaluation into evidence. Delays in paying the deposit, difficulties in obtaining information, and canceled/missed appointments will cause delays in completing the report.
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How Can You Get an Evaluation?

Evaluations performed by the Child Custody Evaluations Office are performed pursuant to Family Code § 3111, and can only be performed when so ordered. Generally, the order takes the form of a Stipulation and Order for Appointment and Payment of Court Evaluator. (This form is available through the Child Custody Evaluations Office or the Family Law Courtrooms.) All orders are sent by the courtroom clerk to the central office (111 N. Hill St., Rm. 228) for processing.

At the time the order is issued, the clerk should provide you with two forms: an Information Form and a Parent Questionnaire. The Information Form must be filled out and left with the clerk before the parents leave the courtroom. The Parent Questionnaire must be carefully and completely filled out and mailed to the Child Custody Evaluations Office within 10 days. Upon receipt of an order and any required payment, an evaluator is assigned to the case. The evaluator may be located in the Central Courthouse or in one of the district courts. The attorney/pro per is notified of this assignment and, from that point, all information about the case should be sent directly to the assigned evaluator. Assignments are based primarily on (1) availability of the evaluator to complete the report by the scheduled Court date and (2) location of the parties. Unilateral requests for a specific evaluator will not be honored. However, each party is allowed to exercise one peremptory challenge to an evaluator at the time when the evaluation was ordered.

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Who Does the Evaluation?

Every evaluator appointed through the Child Custody Evaluations Office is an employee of the Superior Court. Evaluators hired by the Court have at a minimum a Master's Degree in Behavioral Science and five years of post masters experience working with families and children. In reality, most of the evaluators exceed the minimum requirements. All employees receive ongoing professional training and participate in various local, state and national committees and organizations relevant to the field of child custody evaluations. The office employs both full and part time evaluators.
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What Happens During an Evaluation?

Although sometimes altered to fit the needs of a particular situation, evaluations generally follow a definite pattern in terms of the steps taken to obtain information: Every effort is made to apply comparable procedures with both parties. If a parent resides in a neighboring county, the evaluator may ask that parent to come to Los Angeles County for the office interview and may either make the home call or ask an appropriate agency in the other county to go to the home. If the party resides at a greater distance and is unable to be interviewed in Los Angeles, the evaluator will rely on a local agency where available. (In those rare cases in which the evaluator is ordered to go to another jurisdiction for purposes of evaluating a parent in his/her own environment, orders must include an order for prepayment of travel expenses.)
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What Does a Child Custody Evaluation Report Look Like?

The report describes the procedures used and all sources of information central to reaching the decision. The report contains a summary of the information collected, the evaluator's assessment of the family dynamics and the needs of the children, and a recommended custody and visitation plan.

The original report is sent to the Court and each attorney/pro per receives a copy. The reports are identical in all respects except where criminal records have been obtained on the persons related to the case. Criminal reports are attached to the Court's copy only. The attorneys' copies are marked with a request not to generate further copies. We ask that information contained in the report be discussed with the client in a way that the children's well-being is protected at all times, and the children do not suffer any repercussions as a result of their statements.

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Can the Evaluator be Subpoenaed?

Any subpoena requiring the appearance of an evaluator at a hearing or deposition must be hand delivered to the central Child Custody Evaluations Office at least 10 days prior to the appearance date. A $478 deposit is required per subpoena to cover one day of expert witness fees. Depositions require a deposit of $1433 to cover three days of expert witness fees. Deposits must be received 10 days in advance of the appearance date. Additional time will be billed or refunds issued, as appropriate.
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Can We Still Write Our Own Agreement after the Evaluation Is Done?

Yes, you are always encouraged to write your own agreement. After the evaluation is completed, you can make another appointment with the Conciliation Court or with your attorneys. Additionally, if, at the end of the evaluation process, the evaluator feels the family could benefit from another opportunity to settle the dispute, the evaluator invites the parents to a Post Evaluation Settlement Conference and their attorneys are notified of the scheduled meeting. During this meeting, the evaluator shares with the parents the recommendations that would be made to the Court, if a report was written, and which areas in the recommendation are subject to negotiation. If the parents reach an agreement and after 10 days neither party objects to the agreement, the agreement is forwarded to the Court for judicial signature and filing with the Court. In these cases, no report is filed with the Court.
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How Can Attorneys Assist in the Process? (Pro Pers Should Read This)

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Are There Professional Standards Evaluators Must Follow?

Yes, the state has developed standards which evaluators must follow. To obtain a copy of the standards for child custody evaluators and mediators, contact the Administrative Office of the Courts, Family Court Services, 455 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco, CA. (415) 865-4333 or obtain them directly from the Internet at this link: Uniform standards of practice for court-ordered child custody evaluations. The rules which the Los Angeles County Superior Court has adopted to implement these standards are found at this link: ADHERENCE TO STANDARDS AND REQUESTS FOR CHANGE OF FAMILY COURT SERVICES MEDIATOR/EVALUATOR
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Additional Information

The information on this web page refers only to the "full evaluation" conducted by the Custody Evaluations Division of the Superior Court's Family Court Services Department pursuant to Family Code sections 3110-3117. The Custody Evaluations Division also conducts "Fast Track Evaluations" which are quicker and less costly but are also less thorough and do not involve home visits. A web page is under construction to describe this type of evaluation.

The court is also empowered to appoint an independent mental health professional unconnected with the court itself (in most such instances, a clinical psychologist in private practice) as its own expert witness under Evidence Code section 730 to conduct an evaluation of the parties and the child(ren) and to make recommendations for an appropriate parenting plan. This web page does not attempt to describe such an evaluation, although an expert appointed under Evidence Code section 730 is also subject to the Uniform standards of practice for court-ordered child custody evaluations including the requirement that s/he receive and maintain updated training pursuant to the statewide Domestic violence training standards for court-appointed child custody investigators and evaluators (Cal.Rules of Court, rule 1257.7).

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